Problems of unity and design in Propertius II

Hendry, Michael Edward, Department of Classics, University of Virginia
Colker, Marvin L., Department of Classics, University of Virginia
Morford, Mark, Department of Classics, University of Virginia
Meyer, Elizabeth, Department of History, University of Virginia

The problem of the boundaries between the elegies of Propertius, particularly in Book II, is notorious. After a brief first chapter outlining the problem, Chapter II analyzes elegy 2.29 as a single poem, constructed on a series of antitheses: night-day, apart-together, and so on. The differences between the two halves are explained as an intentional juxtaposition of systematically opposed qualities.

Chapter III proposes combining elegies 2.6 and 2. 7 into a single poem, antithetical in a different way: the first part (2.6.1-40) portrays the poet as jealous husband, complaining of Cynthia's open door and lewd paintings, with Horatian reflections on decayed temples and the decline of religious observance. The second part (2.7.1-20) portrays the poet as Bohemian lover, refusing all patriotic and paternal duties. Each is humorously exaggerated, and the two are united by the couplet between (2.6.41-42), which sums up the paradox expressed in the two parts, and should not be transposed elsewhere.

Chapter IV deals with two elegies that are not diptychs but triptychs. Elegy 2.17-18 (the unification was tentatively proposed by G. Williams) is symmetrical, with the dramatic situation gradually revealed through the three parts. Elegy 2.26-27 (this unification goes back to Scaliger) is asymmetrical, and balances the nightmare of Cynthia dying without Propertius (2.26.1-20), the two lovers immortal together (2.26.29-58), and the lover dying without his beloved (2.27.1-16).

Chapter V tentatively proposes combining elegies 2.1 and 2.2 into a single poem. The argument is based on the similarities between 2.1.1-16 and 2.2.1- 16, the symmetrical structure of the combined whole, and the fact that 2.3a, with its anonymous interlocutor objecting to the appearance of a new book, makes a better second than third elegy.

Chapter VI briefly summarizes my conclusions: that Propertius sometimes constructs his elegies in antithetical ways, and that this is a likely source of wrong divisions, since editors assume that sudden changes of situation or tone imply new elegies; that the boundaries between the elegies in Book II are even more questionable than usually thought; and finally, that there are fewer, larger, and more complicated elegies in Book II than in any recent edition.

Note: Abstract extracted from PDF file via OCR.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Propertius, Sextus., Elegiae, Propertius, Sextus, Criticism and interpretation, Elegiac poetry, Latin, History and criticism, Latin poetry
All rights reserved (no additional license for public reuse)
Issued Date: